Let’s keep cracking that glass ceiling

It’s been nearly 40 years since US business consultant Marilyn Loden coined the phrase “the glass ceiling” to describe the sometimes invisible barrier to success that many women encounter in their careers.

By 2022 the term should be obsolete but according to the CSO only 13 per cent of CEOs in Ireland are women so there is still a long way to go.

“The reality is that despite the focus on equality, diversity and inclusion, the difficulties women face have not diminished,” says Professor Christine Cross of the University of Limerick. “Attempts by multinational companies to address gender imbalances have been successful because what gets measured gets done.

“When it comes to very specific targets, great progress has been made. But in the last 10 to 15 years there has been very little progress [when it comes to the top jobs]. Compare that to the UK where they are now over 30 per cent due to very strong influencers for listed companies to ensure targets are met.”

According to Prof. Cross, while women lead marketing and human resources departments, they rarely fill the two leadership roles most likely to rise to CEO level – CFO and COO.

“It goes back to educational decisions,” she says. “Girls shy away from economics when they graduate from high school and very few take economics at university.”

Another factor is “the leaking pipeline”.

“Girls and boys complete tertiary education roughly equally,” says Prof. Cross. “They start their careers with similar roles and salaries, but 15 years later, women have fallen behind. One of the reasons is that the burden of caring responsibilities still falls mainly on women. In a relationship, if one person is to take time off, it will be the person with the lower salary. This is related to the fact that women in salary constellations do not negotiate a higher salary with their male colleagues. Hopefully, mandatory gender pay gap reporting will make a difference here.”

Averil Power is CEO of the Irish Cancer Society, where 50 per cent of senior management – and the majority of staff and volunteers – are women. It’s very different from when she was one of only two women in Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party.

“It’s almost like we have the opposite problem,” she says. “In the charity sector, attracting enough men can be a challenge. I am passionate about diversity of all kinds in the workplace; it makes decision making better. It has to be guided from above. It is important to speak loudly about it and to follow up the lecture with action, not just a symbolic IWD event once a year.”

Cathy Kearney, Apple’s VP Operations in Ireland and head of the Cork campus, agrees, saying, “We believe diversity drives innovation.”

Globally, Apple’s workforce has seen an 89 percent increase in the number of female employees since 2014, with women filling 47 percent of open leadership positions last year.

Irish Rail is part of a traditionally male-dominated industry, with only 11 per cent of the workforce being female. In managerial positions, the proportion rises to 17 percent, with 60 percent of board members being women. The company runs a Women in Rail network, hosts lunch-and-learn sessions with senior managers, and proactively develops a range of programs to support women’s career advancement.

“We have three leadership programs specifically designed for women at different stages of their careers,” said Sinead Keelan, Talent Management Executive. “The first two are stepping stones towards our year-long Women in Leadership program, which includes masterclasses and one-on-one coaching to support career planning.”

Another company with initiatives to empower women in their careers is Aldi, which offers the highest wages in the supermarket industry and pays all employees equally based on function and seniority.

The Irish Wheelchair Association is led by CEO Rosemary Keogh; its board of directors is 43 percent women and its leadership team is 44 percent women. The organization acknowledges that “our stats stack up quite well and there’s more work to be done, but it’s a path to continuous improvement.”

“We don’t think we can stand still,” says a spokesman. “Led from the top, we aim to foster a culture of personal growth and facilitated development where everyone can continue to deepen their knowledge, skills and influence at all stages of their careers.”

At Indeed, Glenda Kirby, Vice President of Client Success, leads the Women at Indeed group.

“Although glass ceilings are cracking around the world, there is still work to be done, especially when it comes to breaking traditional male-centric leadership strategies in times of crisis,” she says.

“The pandemic has taught us that traditional leadership styles can be ineffective. Right now it is clear that the world and business need compassionate leadership.

“One way companies can help encourage women into leadership is by raising their voices at every stage. The goal of Women at Indeed is to raise awareness of the barriers women still face in the workplace and to establish corporate accountability.

“We measure success by reviewing the business impact of our resource group. We hope it provides a platform for women to advance into future leadership roles.”

LinkedIn has a number of initiatives to ensure women are equally represented in leadership positions and has moved away from a “one size fits all” model in addressing the challenges of the pandemic.

“The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, released last year, highlighted that Covid-19 has impacted women’s careers more than men’s,” said Sharon McCooey, director of Linked-In Ireland.

“In many cases lockdown has resulted in women taking on more responsibility for children at the cost of retiring from work. Our own LinkedIn data showed a slowdown in the hiring of women into leadership roles during the pandemic, a particularly worrying development given its impact on guiding an organization’s long-term progress toward gender equality.”

UL’s Prof Cross says: “In the wake of the pandemic, women are feeling pressure to work from home and take care of caregiving. You will be crushed. Before Covid, they had to leave home by a certain time to get to work, they couldn’t do domestic chores during the day. Now if they have 10 minutes between calls, they’re expected to wash up or get dinner ready.”

LinkedIn’s Ms McCooey says: “Plans for a post-pandemic business world cannot simply focus on reopening offices. Companies must ensure that diversity is also embedded in their plans and culture. This means partnering with their employees to develop progressive policies that are fair and empowering for women; Investing in programs to promote the representation of women in leadership positions in an organization; and addressing the root causes of inequality in the workplace.”

For Prof. Cross, who spent two decades in industry before joining UL, it is frustrating that so little has changed since her own experience of the glass ceiling.

“I was a victim of discrimination at the time and didn’t realize it,” she says. “It’s only when we look back that we see it. Now we assume girls know all this stuff but they don’t. They still have the same expectations and don’t understand why they need special treatment. They don’t anticipate the problems that come with being women.”

To find out more about Ireland’s Best Places to Work click here:

https://www.independent.ie/business/irelands-best-employers/lets-keep-cracking-that-glass-ceiling-41670235.html Let’s keep cracking that glass ceiling

Fry Electronics Team

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